Weekend Layover: Paraty, Brazil

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Weekend Layover: Paraty, Brazil

Despite recent headlines, now is an excellent time to visit Brazil. The Brazilian real is down, gas is cheap, and the Southern Hemisphere’s winter means tourists—and mosquitoes—are staying away.

While you’re here, you’ll want to visit São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro—so why not stop off to see Paraty for a couple of days in between?

Paraty—which in Tupi, the language spoken by indigenous Guaianás people, means “river of fish”—is a gorgeous little colonial town roughly halfway between between Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Belo Horizonte. It’s the perfect small-town refuge from Brazil’s big metropolises.

The Portuguese arrived to the area in the late 1600s, setting it up as an important trading post for exchanging minerals extracted from the Brazilian interior by slaves for finished goods like sugar and wine.

Today, Paraty is a placid fishing town with a tourist-friendly colonial city center and a laid-back downtown. There are plenty of decent, affordable hotels and restaurants, while tour operators offer trips into the surrounding mata atlântica forest and the gorgeous blue-green bay.

Day One

Get your day started with a refreshing, and luscious, breakfast spread at Café Pingado (Rua Doutor Samuel Costa 208). They offer warm pão de queijo, fresh-baked rolls, papaya, banana and pineapple, as well as eggs and fresh-brewed coffee. Be sure to get a mint-pineapple juice. Juice, coffee and eggs will set you back about 30 Brazilian reais (at 3.29 BRL to USD).

Photo: Lucas Iberico Lozada

After breakfast, take a stroll through the historic center. Start at Nossa Senhora dos Remedios, an imposing church built in 1863 that looks out onto the central Praça Matriz. Informal vendors line the rough-hewn cobblestone streets, selling everything from beaded necklaces to copper jewelry.

At 10:30 a.m., head over to the cais (a long dock) on the town’s eastern edge. From there, you can catch a ride on one of the escunas—motor-powered schooners—that take tourists around the islands and beaches throughout the blue-green bay. Boats set out at 11 and return at 4; tickets can be purchased ahead of time for R$50-70, but last-minute tickets go for as low as R$25. Most of the escunas offer live music, bars and even restaurants on-board for additional fees. A complete trip with a cocktail and lunch—grilled fish tossed in a shrimp sauce served with rice and watermelon slices—ran to R$90.

Private boats can be hired for the more adventurous and well-heeled—or if you want to spend more time out in the water. The water is clear enough for snorkeling, while the beach at Praia de Lula—named, legend has it, for an enormous “lula” fish caught there decades ago—has soft, thick sand, similar in texture to the yucca flour served as an accompaniment with traditional Brazilian meals.

Photo: Luiz Barucke, CC-BY

After grabbing a shower—and maybe a quick snack—at your hotel, head back into town for a coffee at Restaurante Café Paraty on Rua do Comércio. It’s a bit pricy for Brazil—R$10 for a double espresso—but their beans are roasted locally.

For dinner, you’ll want to head just down the street to Thai Brasil (Rua de Comércio 308) for some of the only authentic stuff in this corner of the world. Plates run between R$45 and R$70, while the ambience is charming and unpretentious. It’s a great place to sit for a leisurely—and affordable—dinner.

After dinner, walk back up Comércio to the Praça, where you can hear live musicians play forro and samba classics. Beers and cachaça-based cocktails are available from street vendors, while the bar-restaurants lining the Praça offer a fuller menu of cocktails. The Boteco de Matriz, tucked right behind the church, has a pretty decent wine selection for a more intimate setting.

Photo: Lucas Iberico Lozada

Day Two

It’s not a trip to Brazil unless you start your day off with a heaping portion of blended açai berry with granola and banana stirred in, and one of the best places to get this delicious superfood in Paraty is Manuê Sucos on Rua João de Prado, a five minute walk west from the Praça de Matriz. Plus, as it’s located just outside the Centro, you’ll find even more reasonable prices on offer. Manuê is open late and a popular place for youngsters to gather and chat long into night.

After breakfast, make your way back to the centro for some shopping and tourism. First, check out the historic Capela de Santa Rita, a gorgeous colonial church that looks out onto the bay and the cais. The Museu de Arte Sacre (Museum of Sacred Art) is just next door, featuring all sorts of colonial Portuguese-Catholic oddities—like a life-sized wooden Jesus laid out in a coffin.

Making your way back into town, don’t miss the Armazem de Cachaça on the Rua do Comércio. They have a breathtaking array of varieties of the sugarcane-derived liquor on display, and the salespeople are pretty friendly, too.

For lunch, try Celerio (Rua do Comércio 58). Their grilled fish is pricy (R$65), but the maracuja glaze it’s served with makes it all worthwhile.

Paraty has become best-known to outsiders, in the past decade and a half, as the host town of FLIP, a literary festival. This year, FLIP brought writers from Brazil, the U.S., Mexico, Peru and Europe together for an extended weekend crammed with roundtable discussions, readings and informal gatherings throughout the city. (There’s also a bourbon festival, a cachaça festival, a photography festival, and an afro-Brazilian arts festival.)

Photo: Lucas Iberico Lozada

If festival-going isn’t your thing, though, you can also hop into a jeep for a trip into the surrounding mata atlântica forest and granite mountains. Jeeps leave from the centro every day at 10:30 a.m. and return at 4:30 p.m. after driving through the Parque Nacional Serra de Bocaina. (You’ll stop for lunch—and artisanal cachaça—along the way. Tours, with lunch, run to roughly R$200.)

You’re going to be exhausted either way, and the best place to rebound into the evening is Casa Coupe, an Italian bistro located right off the praça. Try the “rabada” (oxtail) risotto. It’s smooth, savory, and, at R$37.50, an excellent deal. Plus, with all the outdoor seating, you’ll be able to transition seamlessly into the Paraty nightlife. Half-liter beers cost between R$10 and R$15.

Getting There
Paraty is easily accessible by highway from either São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or Belo Horizonte. Avis, Budget and Hertz all rent cars to non-Brazilians. Bus tickets are available at the Rodoviaria Tietê in São Paulo and the Rodoviaria Rio Novo in Rio de Janeiro.

Where to Stay
The Pousada de Ouro (Rua Doutor Pereira 145) features a gorgeous indoor courtyard, swimming pool, and attached restaurant. Plus, as it’s a few blocks off the praça, you’re guaranteed some peace and quiet. Rooms start at R$575.

The Pousada dos Contos is small and charming, if a bit cramped. Breakfast is excellent. Rooms start at R$275.

Maracujá Hostel is one among many, many affordable options in Paraty that offers a mix of dorms and private suites. Breakfast is decent, and staff are young, friendly and helpful. Dorms start at R$50.

Top Image: Daniel Cukier, CC-BY